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Friday, 10 February 2017

Philip II of Spain


Philip II of Spain was born on May 21, 1527 at Palacio de Pimentel in the Spanish capital of Valladolid. The Palacio de Pimentel was owned by Don Bernardino Pimentel (the first Marqués de Távara).

'The Baptism of Phillip II' in Valladolid, Spain. Historical ceiling in Palacio de Pimentel 

His father was Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire, and his mother Infanta Isabella of Portugal. Philip was their only son to survive childhood.

When Philip was eleven months old, he received the oath of allegiance as heir to the crown from the Cortes of Castile, and Philip was raised in the royal court of Castile under the care of his mother, and one of her Portuguese ladies, Dona Leonor de Mascarenhas.

For the first seven years of his life, Philip moved between different castles with his mother.

In 1534 he moved into a private house in Salamanca to start his schooling.

His mother died in 1539 and Philip took her body to Granada, where his great-grandparents Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella were buried.

Charles V 's interactions with his son during his stay in Spain convinced him of Philip's potential statesmanship, and so he determined to leave in his hands the regency of Spain in 1543. Philip began governing the most extensive empire in the world at the young age of sixteen.

Philip II of Spain by Titian.

Phillip left Spain in 1547 and moved to the Netherlands, where his father's family was from. Charles V wanted him to become more European but the people there thought he was too cold and serious.


Philip married his cousin, Maria Manuela of Portugal on November 12, 1543 at Salamanca when they were both 16 years old. She gave him a son, Don Carlos of Spain (1545-1568) but died a few days later due to a hemorrhage.

María Manuela de Portugal (1527-1545)

Following Maria's death, Philip sought an alliance with England, marrying the Catholic Queen Mary I in 1554. The marriage was unpopular with her subjects, and as far as Philip was concerned, it was a purely political alliance to prevent England allying with France against Spain.

Philip and Mary I of England, 1558

After his second wife, Mary Tudor, died childless in 1558, Philip showed an interest in marrying her Protestant younger half sister, Queen Elizabeth I of England, but this plan fell through. Instead, for political and religious reasons he became involved in a continuing war with England during her reign, terminating in the defeat of the Armada in 1588.

Philip believed his son Don Carlos had conspired against him; as a result, Philip had him imprisoned. When the prince died shortly thereafter, Philip's enemies accused him of having ordered the murder of his own son.

Philip's third marriage was to Princess Elisabeth of Valois, daughter of Henry II of France who in fact had first been promised to his son, Don Carlos. Elisabeth (1545-1568), provided him with two daughters, but no son.

Philip's fourth wife, his cousin Anna of Austria, daughter of the emperor Maximilian II, provided him with an heir, Philip III.

Elisabeth died of heart failure ten years later in childbirth leaving Philip four sons and a daughter.


On his father's abdication on January 16, 1556, Philip inherited Spain, the Netherlands, and the Spanish possessions in Italy and America. However Philip chose not to reside in Spain until his father died, two years later.

In 1563, Philip II initiated the construction of the San Lorenzo del Escorial Palace, just outside of Madrid. The grim monastic palace was completed 20 years later and is considered one of Europe's greatest architectural monuments.

Charles V had left Philip with a debt of about 36 million ducats and an annual deficit of 1 million ducats. This debt caused Phillip II to declare Spain bankrupt on several occasions.

Philip had to levy crippling taxes on his subjects to pay for his wars despite benefiting from the gold and silver from his empire in South America. This debt caused Phillip II to declare Spain bankrupt on several occasions.

Philip's European dominions in 1581

Under Philip's reign, Spain saw a fivefold increase in prices. Due to inflation and high tax burden for Spanish manufacturers, Spain’s riches were frittered away on imported manufactured goods by an opulent aristocracy and Philip's wars. Only the revenues flowing in from the mercantile empire in the Americas and sales taxes from Castile and the Netherlands kept Spain afloat, although this was inflationary.

Philip, in the prime of his life, by Giacomo Antonio Moro

Philip was handicapped by his refusal to delegate responsibility. He had a passion for bureaucracy and spent much of his time solving insignificant problems such as correcting grammatical errors in official documents.


A champion of the Roman Catholic faith, its counter reformation and a supporter of the inquisition, Philip sought to crush Protestantism first in the Low Countries then England and France.

In 1567 Philip sent the Duke of Alva to suppress the reform movement in the Netherlands. Around 20,000 protestants were slaughtered by the Duke of Alba over the next six years and another 100,000 were sent into exile. The result was an uprising against the Duke of Alva's reign of terror. In 1581 Netherlands declared its independence from Spain provoked by its persecution of Protestants.

Along with the rest of the Holy League Philip defeated the Ottoman army at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, which prevented their spread into the East Mediterranean.

Political and religious reasons combined to involve Philip in war with England, and after 1589 with France.

Under Philip II, Spain reached the peak of its power and became the richest and most powerful nation on the planet, However, in spite of the huge quantities of gold and silver flowing into his coffers from the American mines, his country was unable to afford the loss of the Spanish Netherlands and the cost of his overseas adventurism.


Philip planned to invade England, seize the throne from Elizabeth I and restore the power of the Catholic Church. He wanted to punish England for its support of Dutch Protestants fighting against the Spanish rule and for Francis Drake's plundering of Spanish possessions in America and Cadiz.

On May 28, 1588 a fleet of 130 ships under the command of the Duke of Medina Sidonia set sail from Lisbon with the purpose of escorting an army to invade England. The plan was to stop in the Netherlands and pick up an additional 17,000 troops from the Duke of Parma. Unfortunately half of the ships were heavy, badly equipped galleons that were difficult to manoeuvre and they had insufficient firepower. The English fleet consisted of 226 smaller more manoeuvrable vessels with a naval gun that was easier and faster to load.

English ships and the Spanish Armada, August 1588

On reaching the English Channel, the fleet was met by the English ships and caused them to scatter to north France. In the ensuing Battle of Gravelines on July 29, 1588 Lord Howard's tactics of sending in fireships forced the Spanish to break formation and abandon its rendezvous with Parma's army, who were blockaded in harbor by Dutch flyboats.

The Armada managed to regroup and withdrew into the North Sea with the English fleet harrying it up the east coast of England. The fleet attempted to regroup but was disrupted during severe storms in the North Atlantic and a large number of the vessels were wrecked on the coasts of Scotland and Ireland. Of the initial 130 ships over a third failed to return.

The defeat of the Armada marked the beginning of the decline of Spanish power.

A lasting legacy of the Spanish Armada is the fairisle jumper, knitted by the people of a Scottish island who learned the design from Spaniards wrecked on their shores.


Philip II died in ulcerous agony of cancer at El Escorial, near Madrid, on September 13, 1598. He was succeeded by his son Philip III.

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